The fate of 579 inmates of United States' death cells is due to be decided by the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.
SV Mitchell & lawyer (2 shots)
SCU Mitchell's mother pleads (SOF)
GV Demonstrators outside Governor's home (3 shots)
GV Nazi demonstrator attacked
GV San Quentin Prison
GV & CU Cells in Death Row & hands through bars (4 shots)
CU Prisoner speaks
SV & CU Shooting-chair (2 shots)
GV & CU Gas-chair
GV Electric-chair ZOOM INTO CU electric terminals
CU Sparrow on barbed-wire fence ZOOM OUT TO GV prison
MRS MITCHELL: "I was just asking for mercy, that's all. I was just asking, I would tell him, Governor Reagan, you've got a son and if you can save a life... it don't take nothing but just a word from you. Would you please save my son's life and give him a chance. To kill him ain't going to bring the policeman back what they say he killed. It ain't going to bring him back, it ain't going to help none."
CONDEMNED PRISONER: "There is all this pre-execution ritual that really torments a man, to a point when he actually executed it is anti-climatic. I had to sit there in a cell... they did not remove me to outside... I had to sit and watch them shave his head and lubricate his head. And I had to sit there and watch him try and eat his last meal, which he wasn't able to. And, or, it is really bad, and the chair was there, right down the row. I watched them take out this man, who was as close to me as any of my brothers, and five minutes later I could small his burning flesh."
Initials ES. 1710 SGM/1725
There follows a transcript of the two pieces of SOUND ON FILM used in this production:
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: The fate of 579 inmates of United States' death cells is due to be decided by the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. shortly when a ruling is likely to be handed down on whether or not capital punishment is constitutional.
A further 107 occupants of California's "death row" -- the area in U.S. prisons reserved for condemned men -- were released from the list of men waiting for execution in February this year when the Californian Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This forbids "cruel and unusual" punishment.
The wording of the Californian and Federal Constitutions is identical in this respect -- and the same arguments will have been presented to the Supreme Court by opponents of the death sentence.
California's decision added the state to a list of thirteen others which have already banned capital punishment for most crimes. In many of these states, exceptional crimes such as treason and the murder of an armed policeman during the course of his duty still carry the death penalty.
The Californian court noted in its ruling that the number of executions in the entire U.S.A. had fallen from 199 in 1935 to two in 1967, concluding that "capital punishment is unacceptable to society today".
One of the two men to die in 1967 -- the last year in which any execution has been carried out -- was 37-year-old Negro Aaron Mitchell, who was convicted of killing a policeman during a robbery in 1936. This Visnews library film shows the last moments of Mitchell, who died in the gas-chamber despite a last-minute appeal by his mother to Governor Ronald Reagan of California.
Since then the "death row" inmates have staved off execution pending the present Supreme Court decision. Their long years of balancing between life and death have in many cases aroused public sympathy, and have served to re-enforce the main argument of death penalty opponents that it is cruel (because of the delays) and unusual (because the punishment is inflicted less and less).